Star Trek: Year Four – The Enterprise Experiment

Despite fan efforts to save it, Star Trek’s original run ended in 1969. The show’s opening tag line spoke of the Enterprise’s 5-year mission, but the realities of ratings and budget cuts brought an early end to Roddenberry’s cult-favorite series. Since 1969, fans have wondered what happened with the rest of that historic 5-year mission. Star Trek: The Motion Picture skipped far ahead in the franchise chronology, and subsequent installments of Star Trek were either far in the future or way in the past. The only exception, Star Trek: The Animated Series, filled in the gap. This Emmy-award winning show was brilliant animation, especially for its time, but in the end it was still children’s programming and could not fill the void of drama and narrative the original series’ cancellation left open.

Like most cult franchises, Trek has been peppered with ‘non-canon’ literature and fan fiction written by enthusiasts that continue the story. One example of this is the Deep Space Nine Relaunch series that picks up where that series left off– answering questions to many of the loose ends the show left. In that same tradition, IDW and famed writer D.C. Fontana have picked up where The Original Series left off with a new mini-series Star Trek: Year Four – The Enterprise Experiment.

This series attempts continue to answer the questions of what happened to Captain Kirk and his crew once the curtain closed on NBC’s 1960’s series, as well as speak to specific events from the series. The benefit of animation or comic books over television and film, especially with science fiction, is that events, locations, individuals, and effects can be achieved with a stroke of a pencil. They are cheap, easy, and you’re only limited by your imagination and the skill of your art team. To that end, this series in 5 issues contains more battle scenes, special effects, amazing planetary locales, and recognizable characters than an entire season of its parent media.

Story Remediated

The series initial story arch resurrects the three-party Cold War between the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulan Empire. It touches on several key artifacts which were never seen on screen– such as the alliance between the Klingons and Romulans, and how their partnership was ultimately a Romulan ploy. This attempt to explain something seen spoken of but never scene during the series is admirable, and it happens frequently in this type of remediation. George Lucas is infamous for this, arbitrarily tying characters from the original Star Wars trilogy into the prequels with often very sloppy results. Instead of a feeling of narrative continuity, everything feels contrived and foolish.

Unfortunately this is the case in Year Four, though not to the degree we see it with Star Wars. The comic attempts to tie in the alliance between the Klingons and Romulans, the exchange of Romulan cloaking technology for Klingon battleships, Ambassador Sarek’s trip to Romulus, the death and influence of Dr. McCoy’s father, the end of the anticlimactic Organian peace treaty, and explanations for the ‘Galactic Barrier’ that protects the Milky Way from outside incursions. Though all of these things arguably tie in together, they are woven into the story in a precarious dramatic arrangement. As with Star Wars, if the writers had limited the field of topics to one or two single events, it would have seemed much less contrived.

Picking up Where the 1960’s Left Off

Since Star Trek is so intrinsically tied to the era in which it was born, it’s really interesting to see how this new comic series picks up where that left off, especially since series writer D.C. Fontana is a creative force in both. In terms of racial equality and gender issues, the comic is unchanged. It is unashamed of showing the myriad colors and genders of the Enterprise’s crew. In a more modern way, it doesn’t make a big deal out of it at all, where the television series often seemed to go out of its way to point out that Chekov was Russian or Uhura was African.

Where the biggest tie lies is in the narrative’s focus on the Cold War. This story gives the definite sense that despite whatever was outwardly apparent during the Cold War or during this series, the governments involved engaged in much more frequent, clandestine contact than met the eye. This isn’t to say that the Americans and Soviets met in secret to plot against the Romulans, but rather, that it speaks to two facts. First, the Cold War was a much more complex bit of world history than is generally believed, and that the conflicts of today– where this new media finds itself– are also fare more sophisticated.

This comic series is writing Star Trek history from a perspective upon which 35 years of television and 150 years of narrative histories exist. Stalwart fans who read this comic will know that in the future, the three powers portrayed here eventually most form alliances to face greater threats– such as the Borg, or the Dominion. It is possible then to write from a historical or cultural perspective than a speculative perspective. Year Four: TEE’s writing becomes more like writing a Civil War story than like writing a the original television series. This is an example of a recent phenomena– media written as if reality, as Star Trek’s relaunches become ‘the history of the future

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